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Notes from Underground

Notes from Underground

4.3 33
by Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky

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Dostoevsky’s most revolutionary novel, Notes from Underground marks the dividing line between nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction, and between the visions of self each century embodied. One of the most remarkable characters in literature, the unnamed narrator is a former official who has defiantly withdrawn into an underground existence. In full


Dostoevsky’s most revolutionary novel, Notes from Underground marks the dividing line between nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction, and between the visions of self each century embodied. One of the most remarkable characters in literature, the unnamed narrator is a former official who has defiantly withdrawn into an underground existence. In full retreat from society, he scrawls a passionate, obsessive, self-contradictory narrative that serves as a devastating attack on social utopianism and an assertion of man’s essentially irrational nature.

Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, whose Dostoevsky translations have become the standard, give us a brilliantly faithful edition of this classic novel, conveying all the tragedy and tormented comedy of the original.

(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

This revised Norton Critical Edition is based on Michael Katz's translation of the 1863 novel, which is introduced and annotated specifically for English-speaking readers. After the complete text of the novel, a section on background and sources offers selections from Dostoevsky's letters to his brother, some of his writings on socialism and Christianity and on his trip to the West, and excerpts from writings by Dostoevsky's contemporaries. A section on responses offers parodies and works of imitation by writers including Woody Allen, Ralph Ellison, and Jean-Paul Sartre. There are also critical interpretations by both Russian and Western critics from the 19th and 20th centuries. Includes a chronology. Katz teaches Russian at Middlebury College. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
From the Publisher
"The real nineteenth-century prophet was Dostoevsky, not Karl Marx." - Albert Camus
Guardian - Rowan Williams
Notes from Underground established Dostoevsky's reputation as the most innovative and challenging writer of fiction in his generation in Russia
Walter Kaufman
one of the most revolutionary and original works of world literature
Dostoyevsky is one of the few psychologists from whom I have learned something
Thomas Mann
An author whose Christian sympathy is ordinarily devoted to human misery, sin, vice, the depths of lust and crime, rather than to nobility of body and soul . . . [Notes from Underground is] an awe- and terror-inspiring example of this sympathy
Notes From Underground transcends art and literature, and its place is among the great mystical revelations of mankind . . . It cannot be recommended to those who are not either sufficiently strong to overcome it or sufficiently innocent to remain unpoisoned. It is a strong poison, which is most safely left untouched
Malcolm Bradbury
Notes from Underground, with its mood of intellectual irony and alienation, can be seen as the first modern novel... That sense of the meaninglessness of existence that runs through much of twentieth-century writing - from Conrad and Kafka to Beckett and beyond - starts in Dostoyevsky's work

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage Classics
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Random House
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Notes From Underground

By Fyodor Dostoevsky

Random House

Fyodor Dostoevsky
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0553211447

Chapter One




I AM a sick man. . . . I am a spiteful man. An unattractive man. I
think that my liver hurts. But actually, I don't know a damn thing
about my illness. I am not even sure what it is that hurts. I am not
in treatment and never have been, although I respect both medicine
and doctors. Besides, I am superstitious in the extreme; well, at
least to the extent of respecting medicine. (I am sufficiently
educated not to be superstitious, but I am.) No, sir, I refuse to see
a doctor simply out of spite. Now, that is something that you
probably will fail to understand. Well, I understand it. Naturally, I
will not be able to explain to you precisely whom I will injure in
this instance by my spite. I know perfectly well that I am certainly
not giving the doctors a "dirty deal" by not seeking treatment. I
know better than anyone that I will only harm myself by this, and no
one else. And yet, if I don't seek a cure, it is out of spite. My
liver hurts? Good, let it hurt still more!

I have been living like this for a long time-about twenty years. Now
I am forty. I used to be in the civil service; today I am not. I was
a mean official. I was rude, and found pleasure in it. After all, I
took no bribes, and so I had to recompensemyself at least by this.
(A poor joke, but I will not cross it out. I wrote it, thinking it
would be extremely witty; but now I see that it was only a vile
little attempt at showing off, and just for that I'll let it stand!)

When petitioners came to my desk seeking information, I gnashed my
teeth at them, and gloated insatiably whenever I succeeded in
distressing them. I almost always succeeded. Most of them were timid
folk: naturally-petitioners. But there were also some fops, and among
these I particularly detested a certain officer. He absolutely
refused to submit and clattered revoltingly with his sword. I battled
him over that sword for a year and a half. And finally I got the best
of him. He stopped clattering. This, however, happened long ago, when
I was still a young man. But do you know, gentlemen, what was the
main thing about my spite? Why, the whole point, the vilest part of
it, was that I was constantly and shamefully aware, even at moments
of the most violent spleen, that I was not at all a spiteful, no, not
even an embittered, man. That I was merely frightening sparrows to no
purpose, diverting myself. I might be foaming at the mouth, but bring
me a doll, give me some tea, with a bit of sugar, and I'd most likely
calm down. Indeed, I would be deeply touched, my very heart would
melt, though later I'd surely gnash my teeth at myself and suffer
from insomnia for months. That's how it is with me.

I lied just now when I said that I had been a mean official. I lied
out of sheer spite. I was merely fooling around, both with the
petitioners and with the officer, but in reality I could never have
become malicious. I was aware at every moment of many, many
altogether contrary elements. I felt them swarming inside me, those
contrary elements. I knew that they had swarmed inside me all my
life, begging to be let out, but I never, never allowed them to come
out, just for spite. They tormented me to the point of shame, they
drove me to convulsions-I was so sick and tired of them in the end.
Sick and tired! But perhaps you think, dear sirs, that I am now
repenting of something before you, asking your forgiveness for
something? . . . Indeed, I am quite certain that you think so. But
then, I assure you it doesn't make the slightest difference to me if
you do. . . .

I could not become malicious. In fact, I could not become anything:
neither bad nor good, neither a scoundrel nor an honest man, neither
a hero nor an insect. And now I am eking out my days in my corner,
taunting myself with the bitter and entirely useless consolation that
an intelligent man cannot seriously become anything; that only a fool
can become something. Yes, sir, an intelligent nineteenth-century man
must be, is morally bound to be, an essentially characterless
creature; and a man of character, a man of action-an essentially
limited creature. This is my conviction at the age of forty. I am
forty now, and forty years-why, it is all of a lifetime, it is the
deepest old age. Living past forty is indecent, vulgar, immoral! Now
answer me, sincerely, honestly, who lives past forty? I'll tell you
who does: fools and scoundrels. I will say this right to the face of
all those venerable old men, all those silver-haired, sweet-smelling
old men! I have a right to say it, because I will live to sixty
myself. To seventy! To eighty! . . . Wait, let me catch my breath. .
. .

You might be imagining, gentlemen, that I am trying to amuse you, to
make you laugh? Wrong again. I am not at all the jolly character you
think I am, or may perhaps think I am. But then, if, irritated by all
this prattle (and I feel it already, I feel you are irritated),
you'll take it into your heads to ask me what I am, I'll answer you:
I am a certain collegiate assessor. I worked in order to eat (but
solely for that reason), and when a distant relation left me six
thousand rubles in his will last year, I immediately retired and
settled down in my corner. I had lived here previously as well, but
now I've settled down in this corner. My room is dismal, squalid, at
the very edge of town. My servant is a peasant woman, old, stupid,
vicious out of stupidity, and she always has a foul smell about her

I am told that the Petersburg climate is becoming bad for me, that
with my niggling means it's too expensive to live in Petersburg. I
know all that, I know it better than all those wise, experienced
counselors and head-shakers. But I stay on in Petersburg; I shall not
leave Petersburg! I shall not leave because. . . . Ah, but what
difference does it make whether I leave or don't leave.

To go on, however-what can a decent man talk about with the greatest pleasure?

Answer: about himself.

Well, then, I too shall talk about myself.


Excerpted from Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Fyodor Mikailovich Dostoevsky’s life was as dark and dramatic as the great novels he wrote. He was born in Moscow in 1821. A short first novel, Poor Folk (1846) brought him instant success, but his writing career was cut short by his arrest for alleged subversion against Tsar Nicholas I in 1849. In prison he was given the “silent treatment” for eight months (guards even wore velvet soled boots) before he was led in front a firing squad. Dressed in a death shroud, he faced an open grave and awaited execution, when suddenly, an order arrived commuting his sentence. He then spent four years at hard labor in a Siberian prison, where he began to suffer from epilepsy, and he returned to St. Petersburg only a full ten years after he had left in chains.

His prison experiences coupled with his conversion to a profoundly religious philosophy formed the basis for his great novels. But it was his fortuitous marriage to Anna Snitkina, following a period of utter destitution brought about by his compulsive gambling, that gave Dostoevsky the emotional stability to complete Crime and Punishment (1866), The Idiot (1868-69), The Possessed (1871-72), and The Brothers Karamazov (1879-80). When Dostoevsky died in 1881, he left a legacy of masterworks that influenced the great thinkers and writers of the Western world and immortalized him as a giant among writers of world literature.

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Notes from Underground 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
otterly More than 1 year ago
Most of this was philosophical, but there was an interesting section where he was attending a dinner with a bunch of his acquaintances, despite a large yellow mustard stain on his trousers. He was quite poor and didn't comport himself well. On Nook, it is only 133 pages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was torn between giving this 3 or 4 starts, but I went with four because no doubt it is profound, engaging and thought-provoking, though not very entertaining a read. This was probably my least favorite of the 5 Dostoevsky novels I've read so far (Demons, The Idiot, C&P, TBK, and Notes) but it's still a good book, and certainly a lot better than most of what is being written nowadays. The ramblings and actions of our narrator, though they may seem to be complete nonsense at times, actually constitute a pretty accurate description of the human condition as it relates to dignity, self-worth, and one's perceived place in society. That being said, as far as entertainment value is concerned, this book has a rather disjointed flow to it (intentional no doubt), there is very little semblance of a plot, the characters are difficult to relate to at times, and the book ends just as soon as it finally starts to get going. I really don't think I would recommend this book to someone looking for an entertaining read, as this book didn't entertain me much at all. That being said it still gives one a good think if they devote the energy to reading it, so I wouldn't have any reservations recommending it to my nihilistic, cynical, and jaded intellectual buddies. 
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This translation of "Notes from Underground" is essential for an understanding of Dostoevsky's critique of traditions within Western Philosophy and his analysis of consciousness. Overall, this novel grabs the reader from his high and lofty comfort and drags him down to the raw, unmitigated center of his own humanity. One should enjoy it as a invigorating philosophical read or as a slow literary read; either way, it is an essential book to the reader who wants to be intellectually stimulated.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
While other authors in literary history have reduced their plot lines to little more than mundane physical recounts of peculiar events, Dostoevsky changes the entire focus of novels as we know them. He takes the reader on a psychological joyride to the very essence of the human psyche. The Volokhonsky/Pevear translation is far superior to any other translations, whose translators (as the authors previously mentioned did) depend on simply providing accurate vocabulary rather than capturing the nature of the verse. From the first line, the reader can see the astonishing characteristics that all homo sapiens carry: regret, self-hatred, and an overall sense of the futility of the human condition.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Theres no question that Dostoevsky is by far the greatest spiritual novelist of all time. Don't read this and just think it, just pick up his book and believe it, This book not only brings us back to the nineteeth century Russia but helps us to understand the time and Dostoevsky's concern for all humanity and that by suffering and repentence mankind can become what it was meant to be, true children of God.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For those who felt this traslation was lacking, try The Modern Library Classics, 'The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky.' It is more for your money; plus, it contains 'The Dream of a Ridiculous Man,' which patently mocks human nature. About 'Notes': It is the misanthrope's thesis. You could learn a lot, whether you think so or not.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novel is a wonderfull work of art which questions the society and poses intriguing questions, however it is dulled by the dry language of the translation. I am a native Russian speaker and I have read some parts of the work in russian. This perticular translation lacks the vivid and clear language of the original. I do think that this poor translation takes away from the beauty of the work.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Anyone who find this books anything less then 5 stars hasn't really read the book. It's easy to pick up the book and skim the words he writes, but it's harder to understand it if you don't want to. The narrator tells you how it is, notwithstanding the fact that he rambles on about his own hates, regrets and so forth. We've all felt like the narrator once in our lives, and if you haven't, then like one other reviewer said: he has proven his point. He believes he is above everyone, and has a certain lack-of-self-esteem-superiority complex. He takes what he doesn't have and makes himself to feel bigger and better because of his loses of not getting proper schooling, not having a proper job, home, family, and life in general. He also has a very large sense of contradiction. With his strive to be like every other insensible, ungrateful being on the earth, he realizes he can't do it. Of course, he will ramble on for 103,546,356 pages about it before he gets to his point, but it's rather amuzing once you get used to it. NOW READ IT!